Posts filed under ‘ethics’
I’m currently in Florence, Italy for PCST2012. I’ve been presenting here on evaluating public engagement with science. I’m also involved in developing the new PCST postgraduate researchers network, which has emerged from a meeting at the European University Institute the day before the conference. A strong theme from the meeting was the need for more accessible information about projects happening and people working in PCST internationally.
That theme has been reiterated within the PCST conference itself. The issue of accessibility came to a head during a plenary yesterday afternoon about the journal Public Understanding of Science, with reflections from past and current editors on its history and future.
In question time, Alice Bell brought up the elephant in the room by angrily critiquing the editors’ attitudes to open access, to which Martin Bauer responded with some valid points about challenges in open access, such as the impact on authors from developing countries.
I’ve made a Storify of some of the tweets from the session, to give you a flavour of what went down.
As a result of yesterday’s session – along with my internal ethical deliberations in recent months – I’ve decided to start boycotting Public Understanding of Science.
I’ll still read it – I have to, it’s one of the main journals in my field – but I’m going to take a risk in my academic career and instead focus on contributing to open access journals, even if they’re lower-impact.
I hope it will lead to change. Here’s a copy of the email I sent withdrawing my submission to PUS this morning:
——– Original Message ——–
From: “Cobi Smith” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Apr 20, 2012
Subject: Re: PUBLIC UNDERSTANDING OF SCIENCE – Decision on Manuscript ID PUS-11-0135
Dear Professor Bauer,
thank you again for your consideration of my paper ‘Public engagement in prioritising research proposals: an experiment’, manuscript ID: PUS-11-0135, for inclusion in Public Understanding of Science.
I was delighted when I received your recommendation to revise and resubmit. This is the first paper I’ve submitted to a peer-reviewed journal, emerging from my PhD research. I was prepared for rejection, so to be given constructive feedback and the opportunity to resubmit was a welcome surprise.
I appreciated the reviewer’s comments, because they reinforced my own doubts about my original submission and prompted me to address them. They also guided me towards literature that I’d not yet come across during my PhD which has been a valuable addition to my knowledge base.
However part of the reason I’m yet to resubmit is my concern about Public Understanding of Science failing to move towards an open access publication model. My research, like many in the community of academics contributing to PUS, is about public access to and involvement in scientific knowledge. So I feel I have an ethical obligation to ensure that my own research and knowledge is shared in a way that is publicly accessible.
I had submitted my paper to PUS in September, and in the time between when I submitted and received your feedback I participated in Open Access Week. Being a panelist for Open Access Week in October strengthened my resolve to only work with open access journals, however when I received your promising feedback I said at the time that I would take up your offer to revise and resubmit.
However I now wish to withdraw my paper for consideration from PUS so I can instead submit it for publication in an open access journal. This decision has been prompted by my participation in the Public Communication of Science and Technology (PCST) conference, specifically the session in which you and past editors of PUS discussed the journal’s history and future.
I understand your concerns about the impact of moving towards an author-pays model of open access on authors from developing countries. I also appreciate the costs involved in running a journal, including the peer review service which I’ve benefited from, as I mentioned earlier. However I think more weight needs to be given to ensuring that research in public engagement with science is open and accessible to those who may use it. This includes many practitioners in museums, governments and non-profit organizations who don’t currently have access to research about and for them – as well as the overwhelming majority of people in the developing world.
I hope that my boycott will be an incentive for those managing PUS to more thoroughly and seriously explore possibilities for moving towards an open access model of publication. I know many people who were in the PCST plenary will be interested to see how PUS follows up from criticisms raised in the session. I’ve mentioned Open Access Week in October to highlight it as an opportune time for PUS to revisit the issue.
My own research and practice has been heavily influenced by the community of academics contributing to PUS. So I genuinely hope that I will be able to contribute to PUS in the future, when such contributions will be accessible to all who may have use for them.
I continue to lament the lack of the ‘published high’ I get from journalism while I work on my MPhil. However I’m emerging from this academic fugue for two conferences next month.
Firstly I’m heading to Canberra to present at the Australian Science Communicators conference, among other things. One of those other things is an interview – in Spanish – at the Chilean consulate, to get a working holiday visa for my move there at the end of April. You can keep up to date with that on my travel blog.
After Canberra I’ll return to Adelaide to volunteer at the Australian International Documentary Conference, following my fantastic adventure at WCSFP (the subject of my previous post). I wrote a roundup of my highlights from the WCSFP on my Nature blog, which has been woefully neglected since.
In Canberra I’ll be talking about how to avoid preaching to the converted in science engagement, as well as being part of a panel discussion on “Tools for Democracy and Dialogue”. This is the summary of my presentation:
Events aimed at public engagement with science often attract the same crowd.
They’re sometimes planned with little consideration for who will participate, beyond sheer numbers. So rather than representing a broad public, outcomes may represent people with above average interest in science and, studies suggest, socioeconomic status and education to match.
This raises issues of equality, and can limit the value of feedback from such events. As part of my research, I’ve looked at different ways participants have been recruited and what implications this has for outcomes of public engagement with science.
National Science Week in August brought the usual onslaught of work for ACPFG’s communication and education team, including a mammoth effort from Education Manager Monica Ogierman and some invaluable ACPFG volunteers at Science Alive at the Adelaide showgrounds.
This year we also ran some experimental public participation events for my research through Australian National University’s Centre for the Public Awareness of Science (CPAS). I’m investigating whether public involvement in research funding decisions would impact public ownership and approval of research outcomes.
Three ACPFG scientists courageously volunteered their time and energy to pitch their research to the public, and be judged accordingly. All three are exceptional science communicators and we went through their presentations together before the events; the order of the presenting scientists was changed for each of the three events to eliminate some potential problems with the voting process. Nonetheless, recent PhD graduate Darren Plett was the clear winner, much to the horror of established doctors Rachel Burton and Trevor Garnett.
The model for my research came from an event I was involved with while working in the UK in 2007. Based in Cambridge as a science journalist, I was asked to write a magazine story about an event hosted by the Institute for Food Research in the nearby city of Norwich. The results from that event are the subject of an upcoming paper in the journal Public Understanding of Science. It was a resounding success and I thought the method could be adapted well to Australia.
Running the 70-participant event at the National Wine Centre in Adelaide, including distributing and collecting two lots of surveys, was a massive effort. So I enlisted the help of several volunteers, including ACPFG’s Melissa Pickering and visitor Sandra Schmoeckel, who sacrificed the start of dinner to take care of latecomers.
The two smaller events in Canberra were at The Front Cafe and Gallery, in Lyneham, supported by CPAS and part of the Australian Science Festival. The audience was a mix of federal public servants and sceptical students, who had some curly questions for the presenting scientists.
I have yet to analyse the quantitative and qualitative survey data collected at the events, but the voting patterns at events in both countries have been consistent. In all cases the least experienced male researchers took first prize, with the most established female researchers coming last. It appears the idea that the public would make fair decisions about science funding needs to be met with some scepticism!
This article appears in Vector magazine – you can also read articles by two of the scientists who presented at these events in it.
I’m currently doing a research degree through Australian National University’s Centre for the Public Awareness of Science.
I’m looking at how deliberative democracy could play a role in science policy in Australia.
In many ways, ‘sustainability’ is the buzz word for a new millennium. As finite resources run low, levels of production and consumption increase. And while trends show that we are making the effort to live greener lives, the problem of pollution has not gone away, with the UK dumping more household waste into landfill than any other EU country. This books defines sustainability, outlines sustainability challenges and explores some possible solutions.
The information in this book comes from a wide range of sources and includes government reports and statistics, newspaper reports, features, magazine articles and surveys, literature from lobby groups and charitable organisations.
Editor: Cobi Smith and Lisa Firth
Publisher: Independence Educational Publishers
ISBN: 978 1 86168 419 6
Published: January 2008